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I have been reading and writing about the importance of grandparents in the lives of kids. Most of it has focused on the simple joys of having extra pairs of loving hands in their lives, as well as helping mom when she needs a break. But the University of Utah just published some research that suggests that grandmothers actually increased the longevity of humans way back when.
The article explains:
“…as human ancestors evolved in Africa during the past 2 million years, the environment changed, growing drier with more open grasslands and fewer forests – forests where newly weaned infants could collect and eat fleshy fruits on their own.‘So moms had two choices,’ Hawkes [professor of anthropology at the University of Utah] says. ‘They could either follow the retreating forests, where foods were available that weaned infants could collect, or continue to feed the kids after the kids are weaned. That is a problem for mothers because it means you can’t have the next kid while you are occupied with this one.
That opened a window for the few females whose childbearing years were ending – grandmothers – to step in and help, digging up potato-like tubers and cracking hard-shelled nuts in the increasingly arid environment. Those are tasks newly weaned apes and human ancestors couldn’t handle as infants. The primates who stayed near food sources that newly weaned offspring could collect “are our great ape cousins,” says Hawkes. “The ones that began to exploit resources little kids couldn’t handle, opened this window for grandmothering and eventually evolved into humans.”
Apparently, theories like this have been around for a while. But this new study provided mathematical evidence that involved grandmothers were a primary factor in increasing human lifespans.“Grandmothering gave us the kind of upbringing that made us more dependent on each other socially and prone to engage each other’s attention,” she adds. That, says Hawkes, gave rise to “a whole array of social capacities that are then the foundation for the evolution of other distinctly human traits, including pair bonding, bigger brains, learning new skills and our tendency for cooperation.”
So if you are debating how much time and effort you should invest in strengthening the relationship between the kids and grandparents in your life, you might want to be conservative and make sure there is a strong bond. Who knows what the research community will find out next?
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